Dinner @ Magic Square

June 20, 2018 in Asian, Peranakan by thywhaleliciousfay

It was through instagram that I got to know about Magic Square; A year-long pop-up restaurant initiated by restaurateur Tan Ken Loon (also the man behind The Naked Finn and Nekkid) for young, promising Singaporean chefs. The project with its good intention certainly piqued my interest. So when my newly-made instagram friend @abbey_thebolobao asked if I was interested in heading down to Magic Square together, I jumped at it.

There’re 2 seatings; 6pm to 8pm, and 8.15pm to 10.15pm. Since we were dining on a weekday, we went for the second seating. Employees mah. However, the restaurant was located inaccessibly in Portsdown. To reach Magic Square, I took bus 191 from One-North MRT station. And the thing about going for the second seating, bus service would have already ended when dinner was over. So the only way out of Portsdown was either by car, cab or foot.

Bus 191 stopped directly in front of Magic Square. With an open-concept kitchen and a 7 metre-long communal table, one could either think the space was designed as though one is entering a friend’s house or it was just designed minimally since it’s afterall only a year-long project. But it’s not wrong to think the latter because in the opening speech, it was mentioned that Magic Square was not to earn money. Ken Loon was also not shy from sharing that he got inspiration from Noma for the lights. Yes, I noticed the similarity.

Magic Square offered a 9-course menu which rotate every month. For June 2018, the kitchen was led by chef Marcus Leow. After an opening speech by Ken Loon (or general manager Gabriel Chan if Ken Loon is not in), Marcus stepped up to introduce his menu which was Peranakan-based. But instead of the cuisine, Marcus mentioned the meal focused on the ingredients. And with that, we started our 9-course menu ($78) with:-

1) Dish #1 (above) – Smoked tomato stuffed with belacan creme fraiche and coated with belacan crumb. Belacan was homemade where small shrimps were salted, cured, dried under the sun and toasted.

2) Dish #2 (above) – Slightly poached mozambique lobster paired with belimbing and starfruit (burnt, fermented, pickled) and served in starfruit juice and pomelo oil. This was really refreshingly good. The sweetness of the mozambique lobster was enhanced by the sourness of starfruit and belimbing.


3) Dish #3 (above) – Pickled egg yolk jam sandwiched between brik pastry and sprinkled with coffee powder, and tart with kaya jam and sugar snap pea. The latter was really good. I had a few renditions of pea tart (MUME and Cure), and I have to say Marcus’s rendition surprisingly came out top for me. When I first heard kaya was used, I was skeptical. But Marcus’s bold choice in using kaya turned out impressively well; The saltiness of kaya was balanced nicely by the clean taste of pea. The fragrance continued to linger in my mouth after I finished the tart.

4) Dish #4 (above) – Rice porridge served with broth made from yellow bean, cabbage and taucheo sauce. Cabbage was burnt in brown butter, while fried tempeh (cultured soy bean) was added into the rice porridge for contrast in textures. I really liked this. A very comforting dish that warmed not just the stomach, but also the heart soul.

5) Dish #5 (above) – Potato flour coated hairtail with candlenut-infused milk, calamansi zest and juice, curry leaf oil, and rempah sauce made with onion, shallot and lemongrass.

6) Dish #6 (above) – Brussels sprouts, buah keluak emulsion with olive vegetable and shaved cured egg yolk. I liked that the sprouts were fried and sauteed for its sweet and bitter tastes. This dish even had us, self-proclaimed meat lovers, falling in love with vegetables.

7) Dish #7 (above) – Pork belly paired with chinchalok (fermented small shrimp), prawn head oil emulsion and burnt pineapple puree. We were told the pork belly was brined before grilled over charcoal fire. Out of the 9 courses, this was unfortunately my least favourite. We unanimously agreed a better fattier cut of pork would make this dish perfect as the pork belly was a little dry.

8) Dish #8 (above) – Belimbing sorbet, celery granita and sweet pickled celery. A very refreshing dessert which served more like a palate cleanser.

9) Dish #9 (above) – Corn kueh salat and corn tea. The tea was not exactly a tea since no tea leaves were used. Instead, the drink was made from corn silk and corn husk. It was super impressive. A very aromatic drink with depth in its taste. As for the kueh salat, I just wished the custard layer was thicker; I still had rice left in my mouth after the custard layer (of reduced corn kennel) melted in my mouth. But this was definitely one of the highlights of my meal.

It was a fun and wonderful meal. Although the chefs had to work with a tight budget, that they did not deter them from delivering an impressive meal. After our dinner, it was through our interaction with Marcus that we learnt the tight budget also meant they had to think of all ways to not let any part of the produce go to waste.

And because Marcus introduced every dish before we tucked in, I felt I was in a classroom at that moment instead of eating in someone’s house because I was learning new things. Marcus would share interesting facts like ‘buah keluak is buried in soil for a week to neutralise its poison’ or ‘belimbing is acidic in nature, so it was fermented before used for the mozambique lobster dish’, etc. A unique dining experience.

But it was also after my meal that I realised while Magic Square was created as a platform for young, promising Singaporean chefs to showcase their creativity and talent in food and learn the ropes of business, not any chefs could come. The present 3 chefs at Magic Square (Desmond Shen, Marcus Leow and Abel Su) were handpicked by Ken Loon.

I definitely recommend Magic Square. I am not one who return to the same restaurant soon, but because of the solid meal by Marcus (for June 2018), I’m joining my newly-made instagram friends @abbey_thebolobao, @free.the.umami and @thetravellingcow to return to Magic Square in July. July’s menu will be led by Abel Su and his theme is Chinese kaiseki. Interesting…

5B Portsdown Road, Singapore
8181 0102, Website, Facebook
Overall: 8
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 8
Tue – Sat : 18:00 – 22:15 (Dinner)
Ambience: 7
Value: 8
Service: 8
* Closed on Mon, Sun